Why Inclusionary Zoning Matters

Guest blog by Vivian Satterfield of OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon

In a gymnasium in East Portland this past weekend, over 300 members of our community gathered to share one message with a panel of Oregon legislators: we are in a housing crisis, and it is time to act. Individuals, advocates and service providers were at times tearful, or angry. The forum was a powerful reminder that although the problems facing Oregonians are numerous, the solutions are as well. We need to use every tool available in order to meet the housing needs of our communities.

During the 2015 legislative session, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon worked with a coalition of organizations, individuals, local governments, and businesses that care about affordable housing in an attempt to pass House Bill 2564, our Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) bill. Local governments from Hood River to Lincoln County and Corvallis to Milwaukie, not to mention Portland, supported our bill. Oregon and Texas are the only two states that don’t allow IZ.

HB2564 would have enabled local governments to provide housing opportunities for all, in every neighborhood, through a simple and effective change in zoning policy which has been in use for decades all across the country. Oregon’s current housing policy benefits big housing developers at the expense of renters and homebuyers. In 2015 our coalition sought to change that.

If the state would get out of the way, local governments can craft IZ policies to fit local circumstances, enabling every community to provide housing affordable to all. With a local IZ policy, new housing developments over a certain size must set aside a certain percentage of units for those at or below a particular income level. So, for example, a local IZ policy might require an apartment building of 20 new units to include two units that were affordable for sale or rent to working families. In exchange, the builder gets some sort of bonus, which keeps the cost of building down.

Our bill passed the Oregon House, thanks in large part to the leadership of House Speaker Tina Kotek and Representatives Alissa Keny-Guyer and Jennifer Williamson, among their colleagues. On the Senate side, Senator Sara Gelser led the effort to move our bill forward. But other Senators ensured our bill never received a full Senate vote. Despite the statewide crisis in housing affordability, Oregon’s Senate never took an official position on this common-sense housing reform.

The testimony of over 300 community members at last weekend’s forum echoes what we’ve been hearing across the state for years: we must act now to address the housing crisis. Oregonians cannot wait as we continue to watch cranes dot the skyline with the realization that those homes are not for us. This is the moment to address this crisis, and the Oregon Inclusionary Zoning Coalition will be working alongside housing advocates and decision makers to ensure that housing is our legislature’s top priority in 2016.

You can join the fight to ensure that our bill passes this year. Find us online at Facebook.com/OregonIZ

A note from Oregon Environmental Council:

Building beautiful neighborhoods where people can walk, bike or take transit to many of the places they need to go is a key strategy for addressing climate change and protecting our air and water quality. Why? Because these compact neighborhoods use less energy for building and water infrastructure, and they reduce the need to drive. The rub is that these neighborhoods are in great demand, which is part of the reason housing is becoming more and more expensive. To ensure that everyone can benefit from compact, mixed-use, climate-friendly urban development, we must remove the ban on inclusionary zoning and forward other effective affordable housing strategies.

Compact communities with affordable housing will pay off in so many ways. Compact communities offer more transportation choices, allowing families to save a bundle on cars and gas. Bringing people and the places they need to go closer together means people can spend more time with their families instead of sitting in traffic. And when people have access to safe sidewalks and bikeways, they tend to be more physically active and healthy. Finally, because the total costs of buildings, land, infrastructure and transportation are less in compact communities, the tax burden is less.

For these reasons and more, please join us in making sure our communities have stable, affordable housing!

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